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Orienting the Mind to the Dharma

By Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjampa


The appearance of this life is like a waking dream



Until the fourteenth century, writings about the sacred, secret teachings in Tibet remained obscure and difficult of access.  At this time, however, one of the most renowned and learned masters of the rNying-ma lineage, Kun-mkhyen Klong-chen-rab-'byams-pa (1308-1364) wrote a number of concise and lucid texts on Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga.  Despite the depth and complexity of these subject, Klong-chen-pa's presentation was exceptionally clear and understandable.  His work helped to define many of the essential doctrines and practices of the rNying-ma school.

   Although he was the abbot of bSam-yas monastery early in his life, Klong-chen-pa retired from monastic life to live simply in the mountain of Tibet.  There he prepared his most profound works, among the most perfect renderings of philosophical and psychological truths ever collected.  These are referred to as the sNying-thig, works that systematically explain the teaching of rDzogs-chen, Path of Absolute Perfection.  The mDzod-bdun, or Seven Treasure, as well as many other of his writings, subdivide the rDzogs-chen (Atiyoga) system, discussing and explaining the inner, outer, and secret meanings of sadhana practices, oral teachings, and initiation.

   Klong-chen-pa's knowledge was so vast as to be incomprehensible to the ordinary mind.  The title Kun-mkhyen means all-knowing and indicates the extent of Klong-chen-pa's achievement.  Through his instruction, many of his disciples attained enlightment.

   In his Jeweled Garland of Four Topics, Klong-chen-pa describes how one can "enter the refreshing shade of the Conqueror's teachings, a wish-fulfilling tree."  He describes this process of release from suffering in four chapters:  Orienting the Mind to the Dharma, Traversing the Dharma Path, Removing Error on the Path, and Purifying Error into Wisdom.  The first chapter is presented here.


Homage to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas!

With vast faith I bow to the sun-like Sugata,

who in the vast expanse of space,


open the mandala of Nirmanakaya,

endowed with the five certainties:

the smiling lotus of those to be trained

with the light-rays of his action.


Pray listen as I explain the four kinds of sublime qualities:  the way those who have faith gradually enter the cooling shade of the wish-fulfilling tree of the Conqueror's teachings, which offers refuge from suffering and relief from worldly existence.

Those who wish to cross the ocean of boundless existence must first consider:  "If I am to achieve true happiness, the peace of the teaching of liberation, I must begin to strive in this very lifetime.  I must start today.

"If I do not make an effort while I have the leisure and opportunity and this human body, a vessel so hard to gain and easy to lose, I will never be freed from the ocean of existence or be able to cut off the stream of its endless, diverse forms of suffering."

The other shore of the river of birth and death is not visible.  Yet you frolic in this fearful, unbearable lake, everywhere disturbed by the froth of sickness and old age, its troubled waves of emotionality washing over the very peaks of existence.

Having heard these words, cut the stream of birth and old age, and you will never be separated from great bliss.  With the precious boat of the Supreme Dharma, strive to cross over the troubled ocean of the three worlds.

If you do not establish the enlightened path of liberation today, later you will not even hear the words 'happy existence'.  As you endlessly move from one bad existence to the next, what chance will arise to be freed from samsara?

Therefore, while you are fortunate enough to have human existence, if you have sense, you will strive from the heart!  Achieving happiness and benefit, you will realize the true value of your own being and that of others.

If you have this opportune occasion, but lack a steadfast mind, earnestly reflect, "All things are unstable, without essence, momentary, impermanent, and subject to decay:  I too will soon die."

When the world, this vessel of life, is consumed seven times by fire, one time by water, and then scattered to the wind, not even the tip of a hair will remain.  All will be empty, one with the sky.

The essence of life is impermanent, moving and changing.  All sentient beings, be they gods, asuras, men, animals, hungry ghosts, or hell beings, are sunk in the river of birth and death until the end of time.

Years, months, and seasons, days and moments perish and move on.  The changing seasons bring grief.  Always there is some loss.  Think how fleeting is your own life.

The mind is not stable!  Life is easily parted from the body.  It is uncertain which will come first, tomorrow or the end of your life.  From this day forward, keep this in mind.

But fear the suffering of birth even more than death.  Wherever you are born, you will have no true joy.  The nature of samsara is like a fiery pit.  We must seek the means to free ourselves today!

Hell beings suffer from heat and cold; hungry ghosts from hunger and thirst; animals from being eaten by one another.  Human beings are plagued by many difficulties.  The asuras fight and the gods plunge into death.

When joy turns into pain, there is great suffering.  Consider falling from the blissful delights of heaven into the fires of hell; then strive to cross beyond existence!

The appearance of this life is like a waking dream.  Leaving behind what is changing and impermanent, you must move on.  What good is samsara with its pleasures?  Right now, you must strive for the Dharma!

Desire is like poison, a sword, or fire.  When engrossed in desire, there is not place for joy.  Made miserable by accumulating, hoarding, and guarding, you are forever shackled by pride, avarice, and greed.

When you contend with everyone, the defiling emotions increase.  Agitated by entertainments, body and life force grow restless.  The Exalted Ones scorn this striving to do and to be.

With few desires, virtues naturally increase.  Those who enter the liberating path of peace reduce desire and are content.  The one who has exhausted desire is said to be truly exalted, while the one with few desires belongs to the family of the Exalted Ones.

In the same way that desires increase emotional turbulence and suffering, diminishing desires increase happiness.  Those who follow the sublime beings of the past should always be satisfied with just enough.

Immeasurable are the difficulties arising from associating with others!  Great are the obligations and agitations of meaningless activities.  Anger and aggression increase, leading to obsessive hatred.

Caught in meaningless involvements, you are always tainted with suffering.  Whatever is done is joyless.  Even if you have been taught, benefit is rare.  Even if you have listened, you still lake the Dharma.

In the end, the dearest friends are parted.  Leave your loving friends, relatives, and associates behind!  Proceed alone to achieve the sacred Dharma.

From this day forward, commit yourself!  The excellent, holy ones of the past are said to have found the nectar of the Dharma while alone.  To establish inner peace, go also in solitude to the forest.

The Conquerors have praised solitude, for in the unpeopled wilderness meditation deepens, and as disgust for what is impermanent grows, the Dharma is naturally realized.

Undistracted by entertainments or the care of possessions, you will find faith and grow weary with the world; many good qualities will arise.  Without entanglements, you have little to do.  Unconcerned about the opinions of others, you are protected from praise and blame, pleasure and pain, elation and depression, loss and gain.

In dense forests, completely alone, you will achieve profound meditation.  Day and night will be spent with the Dharma in happiness and freedom.  As the meaningful opportunity that life presents is put to use for the sake of realization, qualities of inexpressible excellence come into being.


May the refreshing rain

of well-expressed Dharma

thus relieve the torment of troubling emotions,

completely filling the lotus lake

of virtue and meditation;

increasing inner wealth in the land of peace.

A complete translation of this work has appeared as The Four-Themed Precious Garland (Dharamsala:  Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1979); reprinted in S. Batchelor, The Jewel in the Lotus (London:  Wisdom Publications, 1987).